This is a list of popular English proverbs. Proverbs are also known as sayings. Proverbs give some form of life advice. Every language and culture has them, and many proverbs exist in more than one language. It is important not to miss any of the words in most proverbs because the meaning can be lost if even one word is changed or left out. This list of English proverbs includes definitions and examples, and is meant to improve English vocabulary and English cultural knowledge.

1 PROVERB Absence makes the heart grow fonder
MEANING Being away from someone or something for a period of time makes you appreciate that person or thing more when you see them or it again
EXAMPLE “I used to hate going to my aunt’s house, but now I kind of miss it. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
2 PROVERB Actions speak louder than words.
MEANING What you do is more important than what you say
EXAMPLE “Don’t just tell me you’re going to change. Do it! Actions speak louder than words.”
3 PROVERB A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
MEANING You must begin something if you hope to finish it; something that takes a long time to finish begins with one step
EXAMPLE “If you want to lose weight, you need to stop eating junk, and you need to start exercising. Today. Not tomorrow. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
4 PROVERB All good things must come to an end
MEANING Everything ends; good times don’t last forever
EXAMPLE “I wish this vacation would go on forever. It’s too bad that all good things must come to an end.”
5 PROVERB A picture is worth a thousand words
MEANING An image can tell a story better than words
EXAMPLE “I wasn’t sure that he loved her, but then I saw them hugging at the airport. A picture is worth a thousand words.”
6 PROVERB A watched pot never boils
MEANING If something takes time to do, it doesn’t help to constantly check on it. You just have to give it time.
EXAMPLE “I know you think he’s going to be a great guitar player one day, but stop criticizing him so much. He just started taking lessons two weeks ago! A watched pot never boils.”
7 PROVERB Beggars can’t be choosers
MEANING If you’re in a bad situation and someone offers to help you, you have to take whatever they give you and shouldn’t ask for more
EXAMPLE “I was unemployed, and they offered me a job cleaning prison toilets. I didn’t like the job, but I accepted it. Beggars can’t be choosers.”
8 PROVERB Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
MEANING What is “beautiful” is different for each person
EXAMPLE “I think their house is ugly, but they seem to like it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
9 PROVERB Better late than never
MEANING It’s better to finish something late than to never do it at all
EXAMPLE “Hello, Mr. Jameson. Here is my final essay. Better late than never, right?”
10 PROVERB Birds of a feather flock together
MEANING People who are similar spend time together
EXAMPLE “I think we all started hanging out because we all liked anime. Birds of a feather flock together.”
11 PROVERB Cleanliness is next to godliness
MEANING It’s good to be clean. God is clean, and you should be too.
EXAMPLE “Go take a shower before your date. You know what they say; cleanliness is next to godliness.”
12 PROVERB Don’t bite the hand that feeds you
MEANING Don’t make someone angry or hurt someone who is helping you or paying for you
EXAMPLE “You had a fight with your boss? Are you stupid? Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”
13 PROVERB Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
MEANING Don’t expect a positive result before you actually see it
EXAMPLE A: “This idea is going to make me millions of dollars!”
B: “Whoa. Let’s slow down. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”
14 PROVERB Don’t judge a book by its cover
MEANING Don’t judge someone or something by appearance alone
EXAMPLE “Racism is still a problem today, and it will continue to be that way until we learn not to judge a book by its cover.”
15 PROVERB Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket
MEANING Don’t put all of your hopes and resources into one goal or dream
EXAMPLE “I know you really want to be an actor, but don’t you think you’re being financially irresponsible? Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.”
16 PROVERB Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today
MEANING If you can do something today, do it. Don’t wait until tomorrow; don’t procrastinate.
EXAMPLE “You have 6 hours of free time now. You should start on that final psychology assignment. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”
17 PROVERB Don’t put too many irons in the fire
MEANING Don’t try to do too many things at the same time; focus on one thing at a time
EXAMPLE “No wonder you’re exhausted. You’re trying to work 4 jobs at the same time! You have too many irons in the fire right now.”
18 PROVERB Easy come, easy go
MEANING When you make money quickly, it’s very easy to lose it quickly as well
EXAMPLE “I won $200 at the casino, and then I spent it on a very expensive meal for me and some friends. Easy come, easy go.”
19 PROVERB Fortune favors the bold
MEANING People who are brave and who take risks are more successful than people who are do things safely all the time
EXAMPLE “It’s a risk, but the reward could be great. I say you go for it. Fortune favors the bold.”
20 PROVERB God helps those who help themselves
MEANING Don’t just wait for good things to happen to you. Work hard to make them happen
EXAMPLE “If you want a better life, you can’t just sit on your butt thinking about it. You have to work to make it happen. God helps those who help themselves.”
21 PROVERB Good things come to those who wait
MEANING If you are patient, good things can happen
EXAMPLE “I know you’re hungry, but stop being so impatient. We just ordered our food. Good things come to those who wait.”
22 PROVERB Honesty is the best policy
MEANING It’s always better to tell the truth than it is to lie
EXAMPLE “If you want people to trust you, you need to be honest with them. Honesty is the best policy.”
23 PROVERB Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
MEANING In any situation, be optimistic about the result, but always be ready for the worst outcome
EXAMPLE “We’re going on vacation next week. It’s supposed to rain a lot, so we’re bringing our umbrellas and a bunch of board games. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”
24 PROVERB If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
MEANING If something is already working well, don’t try to change it or improve it
EXAMPLE “Why are you trying to upgrade your PC again? It was working fine before. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
25 PROVERB If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em
MEANING If you can’t change someone’s behavior or opinion, sometimes it’s better or easier to do what they want to do
EXAMPLE “I told Mark that we needed to study, but he kept playing video games. Eventually I gave up and just played video games too. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
26 PROVERB If you play with fire, you’ll get burned
MEANING If you get involved in something dangerous or beyond your abilities, you will probably experience negative consequences
EXAMPLE “Don’t make him angry. If you play with fire, you’ll get burned.”
27 PROVERB If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself
MEANING Don’t depend on someone else to do a good job; do it yourself
EXAMPLE “I asked my roommate to wash the dishes, but they ended up super filthy! I guess it’s true what they say: if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”
28 PROVERB Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer
MEANING If someone is your enemy, treat them like a friend so you can be ready if they ever try to betray you
EXAMPLE “We don’t trust each other, but we have to be nice to each other because we work for the same company. I’m worried about him stealing my promotion, so I’m going to keep being nice to him. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer, and all that.”
29 PROVERB Knowledge is power
MEANING The more you know, the more powerful you can be in different areas of your life
EXAMPLE “When we were kids, our parents taught us how to swim. That knowledge helped me to save my cousin’s life when he was 5 years old. Knowledge is power.”
30 PROVERB Laughter is the best medicine.
MEANING When you’re in a difficult situation, laughing can make it easier to get through that situation
EXAMPLE “I’m sorry to hear about your dog. Want to watch a funny movie? Sometimes, laughter is the best medicine.”
31 PROVERB Like father, like son
MEANING Said when a son is similar to his father; also, “Like mother, like daughter”
EXAMPLE “Ryan started playing hockey at a very young age. He’s just like his dad. Like father, like son.”
32 PROVERB No man is an island
MEANING No one is truly capable of living alone. We need human connection to be healthy
EXAMPLE “You can’t just abandon your friends and family. No man is an island.”
33 PROVERB People who live in glass houses should not throw stones
MEANING Don’t criticize someone if you’re not perfect either; don’t be a hyprocrite
EXAMPLE “Why are you always bothering her about being addicted to her phone? You’ve been smoking for 20 years and haven’t been able to give it up. People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”
34 PROVERB Practice makes perfect
MEANING The more you do something, the better you will become at it
EXAMPLE “Don’t give up on learning the violin. Practice makes perfect.”
35 PROVERB The early bird gets the worm
MEANING People who wake up early or who get to places early have a better chance of success
EXAMPLE “I got to the ticket office before anyone else. I got front row seats to the show! The early bird gets the worm.”
36 PROVERB The enemy of my enemy is my friend
MEANING If someone whom I don’t like doesn’t like someone else whom I don’t like, we can act like friends and unite against the other person (common in war)
EXAMPLE “I don’t like you, you don’t like me. But I think we can agree that we both HATE Daniel. Let’s work together and get him fired! The enemy of my enemy is my friend, right?”
37 PROVERB The grass is always greener on the other side
MEANING People always want what they don’t have
EXAMPLE A: “I’m jealous of all the free time my single friends have.”
B: “Yeah, but your friends are probably jealous of you too in some ways. The grass is always greener on the other side.”
38 PROVERB The pen is mightier than the sword
MEANING If you’re trying to convince someone of something, words and ideas are stronger than using physical force (common in politics)
EXAMPLE “We must avoid this war and use diplomacy to solve our problems. The pen is mightier than the sword.”
39 PROVERB There is no place like home
MEANING Your home is the most comfortable place in the world
EXAMPLE “What a tiring vacation! I’m glad to be back in my own bed again. There’s no place like home.”
40 PROVERB There is no such thing as a free lunch.
MEANING Nothing is free. Even the things that are free have a hidden cost
EXAMPLE “His bank gave him $50 for free, but he had to commit to opening a credit card account. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
41 PROVERB There is no time like the present
MEANING Don’t wait to do something. Do it now.
EXAMPLE “Why don’t you stop talking about needing to call your mom? Just CALL her! There is no time like the present.”
42 PROVERB The squeaky wheel gets the grease
MEANING The person who complains in a situation is more likely to get something.
EXAMPLE A: “I just don’t understand why she’s received so many promotions, and I’m still at the bottom of the company!”
B: “She complains a lot. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
43 PROVERB Time is money
MEANING Don’t waste your time or other people’s time; also, if you can use your time to make money in some way, you should do that.
EXAMPLE “Hurry up! Time is money!”
44 PROVERB Two heads are better than one
MEANING It’s easier to do something as a team than by yourself
EXAMPLE “I’m stuck on this project. Can you help me out? Two heads are better than one.”
45 PROVERB Two wrongs don’t make a right
MEANING Trying to get revenge on someone who has hurt you will only make things worse
EXAMPLE “I know she made you angry, but did you have to steal her phone? Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
46 PROVERB When in Rome, do as the Romans do
MEANING When you are in a new place or situation, try to act like the majority of people in that place or situation.
EXAMPLE A: “You’ve been eating a lot of bread and cheese on this Paris vacation.”
B: “Hey, when in Rome.”
47 PROVERB When the going gets tough, the tough get going
MEANING When a situation becomes difficult, strong people don’t give up; they work harder
EXAMPLE “My great grandfather survived the Great Depression. You know the phrase, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going?’ That was my great grandfather.”
48 PROVERB Where there’s smoke, there’s fire
MEANING If something seems wrong, it probably is; also, there is usually some truth to a rumor
EXAMPLE “Matilda came to school with a black eye today. She cried when I asked her about it after class and didn’t want to say anything about her parents. I don’t want to speculate too much, but where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.”
49 PROVERB You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it
MEANING You can try to help someone by giving good advice, but you can’t force them to accept it or follow it
EXAMPLE “She tried to help her brother find a job by improving his resume, but he didn’t do anything with it. I guess you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it.”
50 PROVERB You can’t always get what you want
MEANING Don’t complain if you don’t get what you want
EXAMPLE A: I really wanted to see that movie, but I didn’t have enough money last week
B: It happens. You can’t always get what you want, right?
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